Conflict of Interest

For over thirty years, “the GOLKAR Umbrella” in Indonesia required all voting parties to register and be monitored by themselves. The result was a “one-party democracy” in which Suharto was usually credited with winning over 90% of any election, as has occurred in many other communist and third-world Muslim governments around the world.

Malaysia created the same structure with UMNO, and for the same reasons as Indonesia had created GOLKAR – because, post-independence, there were deadly threats against the “pribumi” native owners of the land. Such threats came from the communists, former colonial powers, and other power-grabbers, that could side-track the freedom of the people in serious ways should these other interests gain control of the central government. UMNO is a single umbrella that does not offer voters any real electoral choices. The political DNA change of which Khairy Jamaluddin speaks in his The Edge article would have to include, among other things, the END of permission for political parties to do business in order to fund themselves. Such practices have been outlawed in the West for a long time. It is one source of ineradicable corruption in the Malaysian landscape..

Let’s study a regional example. There is a mural in Yogyakarta’s historic Garuda Hotel showing Dutch warplanes clearly attacking with military air force in the four years after declaration of Indonesian independence in 1945. Indonesian “Merdeka” was not secured until 1949, under the brilliant leadership of Sukarno, Suharto, Hatta, the sadly tubercular General Sudirman, and so on. This mural is actually a powerful display of the situation as it existed in the crucial four years after 1945, before the Dutch surrendered and finally withdrew.

All Malays know of the emergency conditions that existed and were exacerbated from the communist north after their own Declaration of Independence, and the recently-repealed ISA was one legitimate response to that danger. Some of the Chinese sub-population seemed to be implicated in this emergency, or this challenge to the Malay dominance in the region (which was, after all, only 60%), which has strained Malay-Chinese relations to this very day.

Some of our non-Muslim friends are still giving talks in mosques without dressing respectfully, or demanding local calls-to-prayer be restricted to inside the mosques (as they are in the USA), and they have gone so far as to continuously challenge the special position of Islam in the Federal Constitution. There is always talk of their machinations to increase their degree of management of the Malaysian government, due to their self-assumed superiority of management talent.

UMNO was farsighted enough to anticipate many of these problems and so was formed to secure unity among those Malay Muslims who were the rightful inheritors of this land. The British colonizers had failed to gain the cooperation of Malays in their factories and plantations and imported vast numbers of cooperative workers from India and China.

Syed Hussain Alattas, the late, sociologist of Malay fame, wrote a classic account of this British strategy entitled, “The Myth of the Lazy Native”. It points out that Malays were far from “lazy”, but only made to feel inferior in this way because they refused to make a transition from agricultural-based work patterns to the nine-to-five factory regimen.

Therefore, in order to secure the actual capacity of UMNO to keep the Malays united and strong, a provision was included that allowed these political parties to participate in business activities that would fund the various needs of the political campaigns.

Such a tactic has long been illegal in the western world, since if you monopolize business profits within one political “umbrella” as UMNO has done, you created the ideal conditions from corruption to form – as Syed Hussain Alattas also pointed out in has later masterpiece, “Corruption and the Future of Southeast Asia”.

Rich people do not usually police themselves. It seems to ask too much. American corruption, formerly thought to be minimal, is actually minimal only at the level of public service (police, civil servants, etc., whose salaries are sufficient to cover their needs], and yet in recent years has appeared among the very, very wealthy — Both individuals and corporations (Enron and Bernard Madoff, the best known).

Therefore, after courageously recognizing the obsolescence of the Internal Security Act, perhaps UMNO could begin to consider limits and transparencies to campaign contributions to their various parties, and especially to stop this handing out of cash money to poor villagers prior to election in their areas. If this is not “money politics”, what is?

Evidence of the efficacy of “anti-conflict-of-interest” laws in the West is that the offspring of elected leaders, whether in Europe, Australia, or the USA, do NOT become rich. They go on in their normal businesses, colleges, or other activities, and MAY NOT extract benefit from the leadership fame of their elders. This is sensible, yet hardly exists among Muslims.

When Tun Dr. Mahathir voluntarily resigned some years ago, Egyptians were nonplussed. And now, they themselves are struggling bravely to set that same example among their own people, as are the Libyans, Saudis, and others. In fact, one of the forgotten declarations of the infamous Osama bin Laden was that his MAIN target was to eliminate the Saudi dynasty in his own country, which he felt he could only do by bankrupting the Americans (which he, or someone, seems to have done).

Egyptians simply could NOT understand why any popular leader would give up all that power and access to wealth, such as what flowed and totally corrupted the children of Suharto in Indonesia after he was forced out of power, or which North Korea’s “Dear Leader” (who has passed away) has tried to pass on to HIS own son.

And now, many Arabs are themselves struggling bravely to set that same example among their own people, namely, that oligarchies – where political and economic power flows from father-to-son, are simply no longer in favor among the people.

What we seek may not be a total adoption of western-style democracy, however, we do have various models in our religion that need to be restored in some modernized way from the 500-year Ottoman rule, which was destroyed for us by the colonials, and some movement is visible in this direction, Insya Allah.

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